The idea for Miss Hennipin, a new release from Sonatina’s Andy Douglas Day, began as a summer day’s unassuming illustrative dalliance and briskly developed into Day’s main creative output. Now fully realized into a loaded 164 page, color-filled book, Miss Hennipin is another supplement to the diverse and teeming indie comics milieu, upholding the kind of innovative enthusiasm that creators like Austin English, CF, and Jason Overby cranked out during the initial influx of “new minimalism” comics. Similar to his previous comic, Chauncey, Day constructs an omnibus of vignettes detailing the life of its eccentric and cantankerous title character and her mask-donning moppet Mokumbo. It’s a cureless attempt to cipher any direct path of meaning or narrative from Miss Hennipin, and I might go as far to say pushing to do so takes away from what the comic sagaciously thrives in. Purely expressive and endearingly strange, Miss Hennipin is an abstract sketch not meant to be unraveled.
The backdrop for all the freewheeling mayhem is Day’s peculiar illustrative style. Constantly deviating from being hand drawn in ink, watercolor, crayon, and pen, along with a fluctuation of paper type, Day captures an unadulterated preciousness of the page. The pencil drawings are at times crude and bizarre or slightly caricature but overall highly gestural and communicative, allowing the viewer to emphatically warm up to the eccentric and whimsical figures. I also really took to Day’s coloring–infused sporadically within the mainly black and white makeup, the splashes of color work as an embedded metonym, subtly bringing touches of vitality to the settings and breathing a zest to the contours of Miss Hennipin’s hair. Just as his materials wavers, so do his renderings of the many characters in Miss Hennipin. While it’s easy to recognize the defining features of Mokumbo’s geometric mask or Miss Hennipin’s exaggerated cat eyes and many hairstyles, there is an unmistakeable spontaneity in the way Day slightly modifies his drawings from page to page. You can almost sense the compulsion behind the lines, a kind of graphic improvisation, as if Day handed you each individual comic as he completed it. It’s this immersion with Day’s creative impulses that give Miss Hennipin the weight of its intimacy, as a book that shifts and varies much like the every-changing nature a growing artist.
The greatest joy in reading Miss Hennipin is how Day strives, above all else, to convey a pure essence of the nonadult. I specifically choose the word ‘nonadult’ over childlike or juvenile because it conveys the most adequate impression of the work. I also don’t mean to say that Miss Hennipin is too simplistic in regards to the scribbly illustrations or too innocent in its curious diction—I prefer to consider the work as pushing against constraints of a fixed field of meaning, in which verbal and visual means work together in an expressive combination. In order to enjoy the humor and creative looseness, I had to let go of trying to obsess over aligning each page in a larger, familiar narrative sequence (something that’s immensely hard to do for someone who loves narrative structure). Miss Hennipin is simultaneously a book of stories and a book of not stories.
Part of the pleasure of Day’s work lies in reconnecting with the childlike sensibility, welcoming the delightful pretense that nothing absurd is going on at all. Both the title character, Miss Hennipin, as well as Mokumbo, occupy a distinctive space in being neither a fully realized adult or naivete, invoking disturbing collisions between lurking juvenile desires and displaced adult longings. “The Religious Phase,” a story where Miss Hennipin drunkenly rages to God about being a perfect creation thanks to herself, encapsulates Day’s ability to depict his characters as flawed, scandalous, and lewd yet always remaining comical. Every vignette seems like a charade of classical children’s storybooks, where character roles are disconcertingly warped and any semblance of an allegorical lesson is completely quashed. There are many times where the text works in code, not to unleash any ultimate significations, but rather in a way that operates like the adult secret language latent in clever cartoons for kids. The accompanying soundtrack for Miss Hennipin, likewise created by Day, is titled “bubblegum buisness,” an otherwise innocuous phrase but really is Miss Hennipin’s code-word for sex.
I first took notice of the expressive and additive effects of a complementary soundtrack with Brendan Leach’s Iron Bound—the limited flexi-disc record by the official work’s band The Newark Wanderers. The book and music worked to inform each other, the sounds drew from influences ranging from Japanese gangster films to Phil Spector, amounting in an elevated and active multimedia experience. Miss Hennipin‘s soundtrack is an endearing mix of lo-fi, distorted tones and saccharine guitar, harmonizing smoothly with the comic’s display of sparse and fleshed out art and narrative. It’s unclear if the titles are meant to represent certain breaks in the book, yet many of the 16 tracks do serve to usher an evocation of certain places and moments. One the album’s longer tracks, “One-Eyed Creeper Man who lives in Sand” is surprisingly catchy in addition to nabbing the amusing creepiness of Mokumbo’s silence or the alphabet Counts wiggling in the manor’s crevices.
Miss Hennipin is published by San Francisco’s Sonatina, a dynamic indie label that has been releasing a number of boundary pushing experimental comics from the likes of Aidan Koch and Jason Overby, and Day’s newest release is a notable addition to their roster of cartoonists that continually pursue stylistic ricks. You can pick up Miss Hennipin at the Sonatina website, and if you happen to find yourself in San Francisco come April 4th, Day is hosting a release party featuring a number of other comic-related activities.